September 24, 2009 at 4:52 pm , by Louise Sloan
My son just started preschool for the first time last week, and I thought I’d be the dorky parent who sends carrot sticks and soy nuts for snacks when everyone else gets Lunchables or some other food that’s “fun,” mainly due to being based on white flour and sugar and housed in disposable cartons, boxes and bags covered with brightly-colored, bug-eyed licensed characters. For at least a minute or two, I seriously worried that he might be a preschool social reject because of his uncool, health-conscious lunches. (In reality, I think he has a couple years before he risks becoming a pariah on those grounds.)
Turns out I seriously underestimated my ultraprogressive, parent-run preschool. No Blues Clues-emblazoned Yoplait for this crew! Right in the family handbook, it spelled out a lunch and snack policy that was healthier and way more eco-friendly than I was planning to be. Healthy lunch and snacks only, they said, no sweets allowed—and please send food in reusable containers, with real cups, spoons and forks and a cloth napkin. “This practice will eliminate the waste of paper and plastic and help your child learn to preserve the earth’s resources.”
Whoa. I was planning on being eco-friendly and all, but no yogurt cartons, pretzel packs, or juice boxes EVER? What about those little containers of organic applesauce? Don’t they buy me some moral high ground, despite the plastic? What about my guilty addiction to Ziploc bags? And it would never have occurred to me to send a cloth napkin to school. The responsible citizen in me thought these were excellent rules, but the harried mom thought, “yikes!” I had some shopping to do.
After totally striking out at local stores—cloth napkins for kids and eco-friendly lunch paraphernalia are apparently far from the norm, even in my famously progressive neighborhood—I went online and found some great products (my favorites listed below). Scott was ready to go green.
But something else happened. Preparing his healthy, eco-friendly lunches guilted me into doing the same for myself—and because of his preschool’s rules, I was ready with all the right containers.
I swear my turkey on whole wheat tastes way better in its hip-looking ReSnackIt reusable bag than it would in a Ziploc. Even those drearily healthy carrot sticks have taken a step up: now they get dipped in the hummus I put in one of the tiny little Sassy containers I got for Scott.
The transformation goes further—as I put his cute cloth napkin into his lunchbox, I find myself thinking that, instead of a paper towel, I really could use a cloth kitchen towel to dry the counter after sponging it. Meanwhile, at work, the Envirosax company sent me a 5-pack of their portable, reusable shopping bags. Thanks to Scott’s preschool giving me a shove in the ecologically correct direction, I decided to try them.
Turns out they’re not only pretty, but practical: They fold up easily to the size of a Kleenex pocket pack, so you can always keep one in your purse, and they have nice long handles so you can hang them from your shoulders, making grocery-carrying a lot easier (a big deal in New York, where you have to shlep your bags for blocks). Plus, Justin Timberlake uses them. How cool is that?
The upshot: After two weeks, I’ll bet all the paper and plastic Scott and I would have generated—but haven’t—would fill our kitchen garbage can. I still use too many paper towels and too much plastic, but I feel great about the changes I’ve made. It took some effort to get myself set up with products that make re-using easy, but now it really isn’t so hard to pour some milk into a thermos or spoon some yogurt or applesauce from a big jar to a small container that I can throw in the dishwasher later. I wouldn’t have done it without a push—our culture is set up to encourage excess packaging and the idea that things can be heedlessly thrown away, and it’s so much easier to just go with it.
So, what I’ve learned so far in preschool? Just like the teacher says, rules really can make the classroom a better and happier place. And sometimes, peer pressure can actually be a force for good!
Do you have an eco-friendly lunch product you swear by? Check out my faves, after the jump: Read more